The war for top talent is intensifying as job seekers become sophisticated job shoppers and emerging sexy brands win their hearts and minds. The allure of a brand is hard to beat even when your tangible benefits are at par and it’s an even harder challenge when you are dealing with new, digital roles – jobs that did not exist in the past and are difficult to benchmark against.

This is a time when reward professionals in traditional organisations should be capitalising on their employee value proposition (EVP) to differentiate themselves from the competition to win the talent that they need. This means thinking in terms of a portfolio of rewards, not just paying more in base pay. It requires combining a range of quantifiable and non-quantifiable elements to attract and keep people in an organisation.

The role of culture

A company’s culture can be a powerful non-quantifiable incentive. Culture arises from the collection of written and unwritten rules that determine how it feels to work in the organisation and it’s the glue that binds a firm together. Building a great culture is one of the best ways to build a brand and get the attention of candidates. To attract the right talent, leaders need to ensure that the way they communicate their company culture reflects the work environment of the organisation.

Let’s consider GE for example. When the company was going through a digital transformation, they had to blend the software and industrial thinking culture together, and communicate this message to the market. In the initial phases of going digital, GE experienced resistance from candidates, especially passive ones, as they did not associate GE with a brand that built software. The talent with the expertise that they needed saw the brand as an industrial business that built turbines.

Digital talent tends to be driven to create and innovate. Attracting this talent requires a certain culture and set of special conditions such as being responsive to the market, having a faster decision-making process and greater appetite for risk.

At Korn Ferry we work with a range of clients to implement culture change that leads to sustainable business results. We've found that many companies who are looking to sustain digital success have developed a culture that encourages innovation. To create this environment, they recognise that there are lots of great ideas out there and that some are going to impact their organisation in the next quarter while others it may take years to become reality. They take a long-term approach to innovation and keep the rewards accompanying those successful ideas. For example, those companies may incentivise people for their ideas through project bonuses or short-term incentives. Organisations that are successful are following this trend.

By contrast, companies who fail to build a culture of innovation are the ones who shut down projects prematurely and don't reward people for out-of-the-box thinking.

If you look at the most innovative companies, like Google, they encourage their employees to take a certain period of their work day to come up with as many ideas as they can, knowing that one out of ten may hit. These employees get incentivised to come up with many ideas overall, not just the percentage of the ones that are hits rather than misses.

Career development

You cannot put a price tag on helping your people grow and our research shows that people across the age spectrum respond positively to development – both in their own technical area and in preparation for that next career step. In the digital world, things are changing fast, so keeping up with the latest developments is even more important. This may be through conferences, user groups or other industry networks. Allowing employees to attend these events will ensure they are staying current as well as feeling that their development is of value to the organisation. This is also a great opportunity for new ideas to be introduced back into the organisation through current employees rather than taking on new staff.

Promoting a culture of self-development in which people take ownership of their careers can also be a strong motivator for digital talent and sends a powerful message about the company culture and values. For example, Apple introduced education reimbursements for all classes taken by employees and subsidised student loan refinancing. Such benefits appeal to the talent they want to attract; people who want to learn and grow and that are a good fit for the company culture of development.

Taking the next step up the career ladder may be important to some employees – perhaps to gain greater recognition, pay or job title – but for many individuals in the digital space, taking on greater management responsibilities may not be seen an advantage as it can take the employee away from the technical work they really enjoy doing. Many organisations deal with this by developing dual career ladders or even a multiple career ladder because there are so many different paths to higher levels of rank and reward in organisations, based on different skill sets and different ways of adding value to the organisation.

The benefits menu

Many digital professionals place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling. They want to work for a passion and a purpose but they still need to get rewarded for it. Companies have to think broadly and tailor a package of reward options that meet their needs while concurrently catering for the needs of the entire employee population. To address that, there are a lot of reward professionals coming up with a kit bag of resources to provide more ways of attracting and retaining talent.

Personalised gifts can often be quite effective: weekend getaways, additional time off, sport or theatre tickets, a new set of golf clubs for the golf enthusiast, donations to a favourite charity or cause. The key with the benefits menu is to know your employees and understand what is important to them – providing a bottle of champagne to an employee who doesn’t drink alcohol is less than effective.

It takes more than a generous salary to attract and retain talented employees. A competitive salary is essential but it needs to be paired with a culture that allows your employees to expand their minds, acquire new skills and face situations that invite them to grow. You then add the right mix of benefits and your reward package will gain competitive edge that will attract and retain the kind of talent you want and need to keep.

Download our latest report 'Rebuilt to last: The journey to digital sustainability' to learn more about what digitisation will mean to your organisation.

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About the contributor

Trevor Warden is the Co-Lead APAC Rewards & Benefits and Work Measurement at Korn Ferry. Trevor helps organisations and people become more effective through finding job clarity, enabling them to be the best they can be and building a motivating environment for high performance. During his consulting career, which spans two continents and two decades, Trevor has worked with a wide variety of organisations. He brings with him enormous experience to help organisations review their structures, create doable jobs and develop wide ranging Employee Value Propositions.

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